Woke up this mornin’ turned on my TV set
There in livin’ color was something’ I can’t forget
This man was preachin’ at me, yeah, layin’ on the charm
Asking me for 20 with 10,000 on his arm
He wore designer clothing and a big smile on his face
Selling me salvation while they sang Amazing Grace
Asking me for money when he had all the signs of wealth
Almost wrote a check out, yeah, but then I asked myself
Would He wear a pinky ring, would he drive a fancy car
Would His wife wear furs and diamonds, would his dressing room have a star
If He came back tomorrow there’s something I’d like to know
Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show?
A singer of satire named Ray Stevens did that song back in 1987 at a time when Christians in America were rocked by the televangelist scandals involving people like Jimmy Swaggert and Jim and Tammy Faye Baker. You would have hoped that given the damage that era did to the reputation of Christ’s church that we would have learned. Sadly we have not.
I recently returned from a conference in Nairobi, Kenya and found that the image of the preacher or evangelist as a man of wealth and fame has been transported to Africa from America. I heard from numerous godly pastors who are embarrassed by the growing numbers of preachers who have adopted an image of gold and glitter. They have an entourage around them that keeps people at bay. In some cases these preachers have men who take off their coat for them as a vale’ and then stand by holding it while another attendant stands ready to wipe his brow if he gets sweaty as he preaches. Tragically this is not an isolated thing but a growing phenomenon. Without fail they pointed to recent American preachers who visited the continent and modeled this behavior. The African pastors are picking it up as a model for having a growing church. What ever happened to preaching the Gospel?
The mindset behind the TV preachers “styling” is rooted in a cultural value of success and pride. The thinking is that if you are wealthy and sharp then you are a success and people will want to be like you. We marry that mindset with a twisting of scripture saying that if you are a financial success then God has blessed you. We transfer that into the ministry and say that if we appear to be wealthy and successful then people will want to follow Jesus. That leads back to the question posed by Ray Stevens. Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show? Is wearing a Rolex what following Jesus is all about? The answer is so obvious as to make the question seem ridiculous. Of course not!
Jesus never wanted people to follow Him because he was flashy or wealthy or appeared to be a human success. If anything he appeared as the polar opposite. We are told that there was nothing in His appearance that would have attracted us to Him. He was plain looking at best. He was blue-collar working class. His father wasn’t Joe the plumber he was Joe the carpenter. In fact it was his very simplicity and contentment that was part of what attracted people to Him. They wanted to be like him in character and demeanor. When we see a person with lots of material stuff we don’t want to be like them. What we really want is to have the stuff they have. There is a huge difference. Wanting to be like a person is wanting to have the character traits they exhibit. Wanting someone’s stuff is to be guilty of the sin of coveting. It leads to envy and bitterness and sometimes dishonesty in order to get “stuff”.
Such desires for “stuff” are rooted in a failure to be content with our circumstances. The Apostle Paul talked a great deal about being content.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:12
6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. 1 Timothy 6:6-10
That kind of contentment is appealing to people. When people see that you are able to be content with what you have then you give off an aura of satisfaction and peace that people long for. The world says that life is better if you have the Rolex and the pinky ring. Even though we say we don’t believe that, too many Christians live as if it is true. But deep down inside people realize that the stuff does not really satisfy. If we really wanted to be like Jesus then we would learn to be content no matter if we are rich or poor, hungry or well fed, clothed in splendor or homespun simplicity. I suspect that people who don’t yet know Jesus also suspect in their heart of hearts that the stuff is not what matters. But they have never seen anyone live a contented life in Christ that proves that following Jesus, really following Jesus, is the only truly blessed way to live.